2 – 3 June 2016
My trip to Croatia had an early start: 3.30am to be precise. My flight was at 7am, I had to be a Gatwick at 5am and so I needed to leave the house (having ordered by first ever Uber) at 4am. Ew. Thankfully I was so excited I could just about manage it. My week long trip to Croatia was going to start in Dubronik before taking me onto Hvar and then Split and the airport. At the airport, I treated myself to a croissant from Apostrophe stuffed with ham and cheese – my four travel buddies all went for healthier options but this was a holiday. Our flight was only two and a half hours so it wasn’t long before we touched down, leaving cold England to the brilliant sun of Dubrovnik.
City Walls Tour
A bit of Googling and asking around for the best things to do in Dubrovnik quickly made it obvious that a tour of the city walls, which surround the Old Town, was THE thing to do. So that is the first thing we did. The ticket price was around 110 kuna (I think, maybe 120) and that included entry into Fort Lovrijenac, aka St. Lawrence Fortress (otherwise 30 kuna), which sits not far outside the Old Town. It took longer than I expected for us to wander around the top of the wall – a bit over an hour wandering – and I took dozens of nearly identical photographs of the Old Town, with its mass of red roofed buildings, at slightly different angles as I went. If you’re looking for your picture of King’s Landing (like I was) then this is the place to get them.
Exploring the Old Town
There is only one word to describe Dubrovnik’s Old Town: incredible (well various synonyms would probably do the job as well: magnificent, amazing… you get the gist). If I was trying to explain it, I’d say it was like the quaint streets of Venice, crossed with the beige-y/yellow-y stone streets and buildings of Athens’ Plaka area, with the red roofs of Prague thrown in. Then imagine all that stuffed inside a Mediterranean medieval fortress. If you can picture all of that then you won’t be surprised to discover that the Old City of Dubrovnik is listed as a UNESCO site. It is B-E-A-utiful.
Game of Thrones sites
Dubrovnik has been on my bucket list ever since I found out that it was used to film King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. With that in mind, I was pretty determined to take one of the Game of Thrones tours, where you are taken to some of the film locations, with a guide who has a little book with pictures of scenes filmed in and around the town. When I arrived, I spotted the tours on offer everywhere but then I wandered around the Old Town, which couldn’t have felt more Game of Thrones-y if it had tried and I figured I just didn’t need to fork out money for a tour. Instead I went myself to Fort Lovrijenac, which was used as the Red Keep, and the Jesuit Steps, where Cersei started her walk of shame – although I thought it best not to recreate the scene for my pictures.
When we finally arrived at our hostel, having been up since 3.30am and having dragged our bags up flights and flights of stone steps, we were starving – but we had no idea where to go to. Thankfully the girl who checked us into our hostel was super helpful and recommended places for us to eat.
The girl at the hostel told us that Lokanda, down on the waterfront, just outside the walls of the Old Town, was one of her favourite places to eat. As soon as we’d refreshened up, this is where we headed. We pulled up a table, overlooking a small harbour, and poured over the mainly seafood-based menu. I must admit, seafood isn’t really my thing (unless your are talking Tuna Melts or bagels with smoked salmon) but since we were on the coast, I figured I couldn’t be in Croatia and not have at least one seafood based meal. We eventually decided to get two of the seafood platters to share (each were recommended for two people), a bowl of white bait and the litre carafe of white wine (which a lot of places seem to serve in Croatia for only 100 kuna or so) to wash it down with. The amount of food we were brought (served inside black cooking pots) was insane. One of those platters might not have been enough for five people but we definitely did not need the white bait and there was an embarrasing amount of food leftover. I’d never had white bait before and thought it was fine but apparently it’s usually served crunchier. The platters consisted of prawns and mackerel (the best bits), mussels (pretty good and there were loads of them) sword fish (a bit thick and dry for me), sardines (which I didn’t manage to eat due to the huge amount of minuscule bones) and squid (which I am not a massive fan of unless is it fried). All in all, it was a perfect first meal in Croatia and I left full, but since it was light seafood I could start exploring without needing a nap first.
After an early start and a long afternoon of walking around the old city walls, followed by an even longer nap, we emerged looking for food. We headed in the direction of Lady Pi-Pi – another restaurant the girl at our hostel had recommended. She said she hadn’t been there herself but had heard good things. Apparently it was the place to be. Unfortunately, everybody else in Dubrovnik seemed to have the same idea. We arrived (after having to climb an inevitably large and exhausting number of stairs) to find a pretty decent queue outside. By the time we got there after nap time, it was just after 9pm and the kitchen closed at 10pm. We finally made it inside at about 9.50pm – just in time. We were pretty lucky, people who joined the queue not long after us were turned away. You could see why this place was so popular – it was really cute. The place was open air and full of wooden frames covered in twisted green ivy – as well as a statue of a naked lady peeing out the front. We’d already checked the menu whilst queueing and so ordered immediately. I went for the beef goulash. It was listed as an appetiser/side dish (I forget which exactly) but I was assured by the waiter that the portion would be enough. I love beef stews and find they are always a good cultural option. This one came with a lot of soupy sauce, full of meat and vegetables and possibly more cinnamon than I have ever had in one dish before (that wasn’t a problem for me, I love cinnamon). We were given a bread basket for the table which was perfect for mopping up my leftover sauce (as were my friend’s chips) and again found a cheap litre of white wine. This place was worth the queue.
It took the girl at our hostel a little while to think of a third option for our final meal in Dubrovnik. Finally she landed on the Taj Mahal, which oddly serves Bosnian food as opposed to curry. Thankfully, despite the randomness, the food was amazing. I went for cevapi – a mix of minced beef and pork, formed into sausage shaped pieces. It came in three sizes: large (10 pieces), medium (7 pieces) and small (5 pieces). I went for medium but small probably would have done me for lunch – I was left stuffed! My cevapi was served up in a thick kind of pitta bread, and sides of red onion and a creamy cheese – both of which I smothered ontop of my cevapi. This was an excellent last meal in Dubrovnik.
Sladoledarna Ice Cream
One thing I didn’t expect from Croatia was the amount of amazing ice cream. After spotting so many people licking ice cream whilst walking down the main street in Dubrovnik’s Old Town – the Stradun – we found a place called Sladoledarna which seemed to be pretty popular. I went for the hazelnut chocolate option (twice) which was so very, very tasty. They also had a good option of fruity flavours which weren’t made using milk, perfect for the dairy-intolerant Flatmate.
Before we left on our Croatia adventure, a friend had recommended a bar in Dubrovnik on the rocks by the sea, just outside the city wall. The girl at our hostel told us that it was just around the corner and whilst we were wandering around the tops of the city walls we looked down and spotted two bars below us. The next morning, whilst trying to figure out how to spend our last few hours in Dubrovnik (the weather was too nice for museums and churches) so we wandered from our hostel, following signs for “cold drinks” and ended up Buza bar. The bar has covered seating, with unbeatable views of the deep blue sea, where we sat and read with some bottles of juice. From there, we paid up and walked down the rocky steps, down to the water’s edge. From here, three of us (me included) changed into our swimwear and started scouting for good spots to jump into the water from. We could spot rocks looming in the water below and so ended up wussing out and jumping in from the lowest rocks possible (and even that took us a while to do). The water was cold and we waved to passing boats and people touring the city walls above us, who were clearly wondering what on earth we were doing, before attempting to get back onto dry land. This was easier said than done. The current started to get a little stronger so we had to time our swimming so that we wouldn’t get smashed against the rocks, while not getting dragged off them at the same time. I managed it surprisingly easily but my fellow swimmers were left with a few scrapes. We spent a while sitting on the rocks drying off, during which time we were put to serious shame by people jumping from much higher than we did.
My travel buddies and I had decided to wing it a bit with accommodation. We had an idea of how long we’d want to be in each place (which we ended up sticking to) but we weren’t 100% – it would depend on weather and how much we liked each place when we arrived. Still we knew that no matter what we would be spending our first night in Dubrovnik and our last night in Split, so we trawled through Hostel World to find somewhere to stay for one night in the city. Since our flight landed early-ish and our ferry to Hvar left late afternoon, one night was the perfect amount.
City Walls Hostel
We decided on the City Walls Hostel, having read some good reviews for it. Dubrovnik is known for being one of the more expensive places in Croatia and staying inside the Old Town does a bit cost more but we were only there for one night and the area was so beautiful it was worth it. We arrived at the hostel to find a very helpful girl ready to check us in and recommend the best places for us to go, eat and drink. We were offered welcome shots but, since it was early, we asked to have them later (and then forgot – dammit). The Old Town is relatively small so the hostel was close to everywhere we needed to go to – although we did have to struggle up multiple stairs with our bags to get there (it turned out there was an easier, albeit slightly longer, route. The place was clean and quite cute and I was able to get onto the wifi whilst in my 6-bed dorm room (which we shared with one other guy who only ever came in when we were sleeping) – which doesn’t always happen. There was also a free granola/cereal based breakfast, which saved us both time and money in the morning.
From the airport
Thanks to a helpful email I had received from Hostel World after I booked my accommodation, I knew there was a 40 kuna shuttle bus from the airport into town. We headed out of the arrivals gate and noticed a stand along the wall, run by a company called Atlas, selling shuttle bus tickets. Once paid up, we wandered outside and spotted a big white coach with an Atlas logo, which we assumed had to be the right one – it was also parked opposite a shuttle bus sign and had a piece of paper in the front window saying it was the shuttle bus which helped. It would have been a bit hard to miss. The ride didn’t take too long and the journey took us through mountain roads and passed the Adriatic Sea – which was a shade of blue I have never seen water before. It was like the indigo colouring-in pencil you used to draw pictures of your childhood holidays – and nothing like the brown sea of England. It wasn’t long before we were pulling up at the first stop – the Pile Gate, which is the entrance into the Old Town.
Around the Old Town
The Old Town is not a place for cars. I didn’t see a single one and there’s not really anywhere to drive them. That means if you are going to get around the Old Town it is going to have to be on foot. That is not really a problem since it’s not that big! The only thing was the sheer amount of stairs. Despite having discovered regular exercise multiple months ago, they still killed me.
Dubrovnik isn’t the closest port to set off from if you want to get to Hvar but there is a people ferry (or a catamaran as they call it) that will take you there in 3/3.5 hours. I think the frequency of said ferry differs depending on the time of year but during my visit at the beginning of June there seemed to be one a day, leaving at 4.30pm. In order to get there from the Old Town, we had to take a bus from the station outside the Pile Gate, where we arrived a bit before 3.30 – to be on the safe side. Helpfully, there were plenty of people trying to sell tours to tourists loitering around, one of which told us which buses would take us to the port. We can’t have been on the bus for much more than 10 minutes but we didn’t know the name of the stop we needed – nor the bit of the harbour where our specific boat would be leaving from. With that in mind, we got off as soon as we spotted ships. At first we thought we’d got off too early but thankfully quickly spotted a big boat with “Hvar” on the side and a long queue. We’d made it.